Malaysia never stops changing. Controversial areas like race, religion, native privilege (bumiputera status), and national language are constantly in a state of flux. Most recently, when I registered the birth of my latest child, I discovered that the birth certificate itself had changed (for the second time), and that now the race of the child was explicitly stated on the birth cert. Prior to this, the race of the mother and father were stated, but not that of the child. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I figured it implied some latitude in determining the child’s race at some future time, like when he got his national Identity Card, for example. Instead, now, the child’s race is designated on the birth cert, AND the child takes the race of the father. Well that’s clear enough. Except wait. What race am I?

They call me Orang Putih over here, and I’m white back home (let’s not get into that again), but Lo! There is no Putih option. I didn’t even ask about Jewish. I tried to put American, which would be great if it would stop people from telling my son he’s an Englishman, but the counter clerk said that wasn’t an option either. So, my son and I, we’re Europeans now. It’s been a long 150 years from the Motherland, but finally, in Malaysia, I return to my roots and throw European offspring.

That’s fine really, if that’s what it has to be. But does it? Jordan MacVay, who is expecting another child, got on the telephone and tried to get some straight answers out of JPN, the National Registration Department. And it appeared he did, until the exceptions, the workarounds, and the contradictions started cropping up, as they always, invariably do. Check out the comments section for more.

Along the way at Jordan’s, I took the chance to whine again about the extra-special immigration and registration laws here in the Land of the Hornbill. The most bizarre inconsistency being that in the rest of the country, children born of one bumiputra parent inherit bumiputra status, whereas in Sarawak, both parents must be bumiputra. Combined with the ruling above about inheriting race from the father, and you wind up with West Malaysians who are ethnically European but receive Bumiputra privileges, and Sarawakians who are ethnically Malay or Iban but do not receive Bumiputra privileges. The recent Marina Undau case in particular caused widespread murmuring in Sarawak, which our Chief Minister could probably not ignore, considering his own children of mixed descent.

Barely had I finished venting on the topic at Jordan’s, when I received a government circular in my Inbox. As of November 23rd 2009, all Sarawakians and Sabahans with one bumiputra parent are to be considered as bumiputera by all government agencies. Amazing. No newspaper headlines, no parliamentary act, no public debate – just a government memo and it’s done. Download it and read for yourself.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. I think this is getting so hard to comprehend! As usual, the gov has managed to make us all go nuts.

    To outsiders, it may simple like a simple matter. But, when the gov here ties to who gets the special privilege, it gets extremely complicated. It’s gonna be simple only when they abolish special privilege. Add the differences between East and West Malaysia, we get another complication.Only God knows when everybody will just be treated equally here.

  2. Thanks for the comment Azlin. On the one hand we want the best opportunities for our children, as Jordan said, so in that sense it is good news for people in my situation. Removing strange inconsistencies in the law is also a step in the right direction. Mixed kids can hopefully also be a bridge between their parents’ groups, maybe moreso if they are able to choose/define their group affiliation which as Jordan and the commenter on his site report *may* be an option. But in the end institutionalized race-based privilege is a losing policy, even if it was designed to address historical inequities, and my main point in raising the subject here and in previous posts is to point out how silly the whole enterprise has become. Poverty and unequal access to opportunity are the real problems and I don’t see why government policies can’t address those directly rather than through the flawed proxy of race.

  3. In regarding to race… it is hard(debatable) to define what is race?In accordance to Culture,Language,Location,Believe, Appearance and Origin/stocks.

    Let us look at stocks/origin by the way no such thing another living species or sub species of mankind(homo sapiens sapiens) in both biological Science and anthropology. there is 4 main type/stock

    Asian/Oriental = Mongoloid
    “Black”/African America = Negroid
    “white”/ European = Caucasian

    Australian aborigine and Malaysian Orang Asli are not consider to be Negroid stock even though they are really black. They belong to Australoid stock. The Australoid stock is more closer to Mongoloid stock than to the Negroid. Caucasian stock too are more similar to the Mongoloid than the Caucasian stock is to a Negroid. The difference among the stocks in the Negroid(Eastern and Western) is actually bigger than among Negroid and Caucasian. AFrican American are predominately from the Western Negroid stork of west Africa.

    Pakistani and Indian, while culturally and geographically they are consider to be Asian but in term origin/genetics/lineage are of Caucasian stocks. And the southern region(tamil n sri langka) where there is a black/dark skin population are neither consider Negroid or Mongoloid but are really Caucasian. So they are the Black Caucasian hence the joke Black Whites! or Black and White(Michael Jackson). And in America when you see a dark tamil/Indian kid… Remember he is actually white not black!

    Arabs are generally “Semitic” but as Arab(just like the Malay proper) is more of a culture/religion/language than origin . it has a mixture of population of black(Negroid) and more pure white(Caucasian)mixture.

    Jews are generally NOT Semitic hence their origin are really from Eastern european(Ukraine,Russia,Poland etc they are consider to be pure bona fide white European with some Mongoloid stock. That is where you see the mongoloid eyelid of some of them specially apparent when they get older.

    So where are the Biblical Jews and the other Israelite today.. well some of them went to other Semitic land ,North Africa and also to western Europe(spain) and became the Sephardim. But what they don’t tell you is the most of them became really Palestinian(Arabs). How is that true?? Well in ancient time Most of the Biblical Jews and Israel converted to Paganism in Babylon era later to Christian in Apostle Era and Islam in Umar Khattab and beyond period. So the Palestine are the true JEWS/Israel in lineage with an Arab culture n muslim/Christian believe.

    The Jews in the Islamic empire late spread Judaism to area around Eastern european in the 14 century. They then becomes the most populous JEws till this day. While it is true that they are Jews in Religion and culture and mentality they lineage and race is not really Jew. Meaning they are not of the tribe Judah…Israel or Abraham.

    So Now we know Jews are white and Hence Anti-Semitic actually means Anti or Arab or Anti Palestinian! So Orwell was in fact correct. truth-speak.

    So Calling you European is probably the best option as you are part of the greater European stock(of course they don’t teach you this at America knowing how racist that country is …wink…wink…wink). Just as Java,Malay proper,Bugis,Philipino are consider to be greater Malay/polyneisan stock and so on.. Calling you caucasain is also debateble it could mean you an Rab or Indian while listing you as whit will never do as Black can also mean white!

    Having said all these …. There is really no such thing as a pure stock or race hence all race are a mixture to a certain degree of the other. So we are Mongrel in nature and Humankind is one which is Homo Sapien Spien with no Special/Superior/Chosen(Mutants?) blood.

  4. Hi,I would like to clarify. My father is chinese while my mother is malay. In Semenanjung, the son is automatically is considered as bumiputera. In Sarawak, Chinese father and Malay mother, the son/daughter will considered as bumi???

  5. Hi sadboy. In sememanjung, yes, by law. In Sarawak and Sabah, yes, at the administrative level. If you download the pdf, you’ll see the exact wording. What it seems to mean is that the children will be considered or treated as bumi, whereas by the letter of the law, they are still not. I think this is so the change in treatment can be made more quickly, as it takes time to amend or pass a law, though one might say it also allows the administrative change to be revoked if needs be. I’m not a lawyer, nor am I fluent in BM, so take my thoughts for what they are worth.

  6. I am just wondering, is it true that non bumi muslim can apply to native court to certified a person as malay. Since “Malay” definition is person who speak malay, practices Malay culture and Muslim. Wondering if anyone is familiar with law and court can give me a handy advice. I am worried for my son and daugther, I was rejected from entering local U and I dont want this to happen any to my son.

  7. Sorry, I don’t really know about that. I have heard it said that it is possible, but I don’t even know which court exactly that would be. You should meet with a lawyer if it is important to you. I’m sure a lawyer would not charge you for the first meeting to discuss your case.

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